Science in Christian Perspective
The Unity in Creation
Department of Chemistry
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250
From: JASA 29 (June 1977): 52-55.
Man has always wanted to relate observations and put them under one logical roof. Thus, man tends to believe that the natural laws we formulate are themselves related to each other, and that the events in, and the properties of, the physical world can, in principle, lead either to a single natural law or to a small set of complementary natural laws. Man's tendency to accept a model of the physical aspect of the universe in which there can be uncertainty but no chaos, no incoherence in ultimate physical law, is consistent with the scriptural view of man and the remainder of Creation. When it is observed that the trend of events in the history of the physical sciences is just what God's people would expect, several conclusions follow. It is shown that one can make some decisions on how to teach physical science; that time, space, and matter as far as we are concerned are unified, that is, they must be thought of as existing together and not separately; and that there can be a Christian approach to the subject matter, not just the applications, of physical science. Other conclusions are also discussed.
Man has never been satisfied merely with making observations of the events in, and the properties of, the physical aspect of Creation. The universal desire to relate observations and put them under one logical roof is, during this scientific era, carried out by correlating observations to formulate natural laws. Man also has the tendency to believe that natural laws, like the observations upon which any one natural law is based, are not isolated from each other. Thus, all the events in, and the properties of, the physical aspect of Creation might, in principle, he related either to a single natural law or to a small set of coherent, complementary laws.
The Unification Principle
If one accepts for the physical aspect of Creation a model in which there can be uncertainty (in the Heisenberg sense) but no chaos, one is consistent with the scriptural view of Creation. God's people have always known the central principle of physical science: A single power is the cause of whatever man observes in the physical aspect of Creation. There is a unity in whatever man observes in the physical aspect of Creation, and therefore the central principle may be called the Unification Principle. Because of the genera] thrust of Scripture as well as the obvious interpretation of specific passages of Scripture, God's people have always known these things. God did not create chaos:
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is Cod!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in chaos.' I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right." (Is. 45:18-19; all Scripture quotations are from RSV)
Everything is ordered because God upholds that which He has created:
For ever, 0 LORD, thy word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Thy faithfulness endures to all generations; thou bast established the earth, and it stands fast. By thy appointment they stand this day; for all things are thy servants. (Ps. 119:89-91)
It is no accident that man can observe and formulate natural laws. Man was created so that he can carry out scientific work:
Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image ............and let them have dominion . (Gen. 1:26)
This passage indicates that one consequence of man's creation in the image of God is man's ability to function as the head of Creation. As man exercises this dominion, he analyzes Creation and discovers how the forest of observations which he makes is ultimately related to the power of God. Both the Christian and the non-Christian hear the image of God and therefore both are capable of carrying out work in the natural sciences. Paul taught that all men know the power of God:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him (Rom. 1:20-21)
Thus, all men know of God, even though some have distorted ideas of Him. Man knows God because he knows the eternal power of God. Therefore, all men have knowledge of the integrating power which is the reason for the order which makes scientific work possible. Our humanly formulated natural laws point to the ultimate power Paul refers to. Even though not all men are conscious of this knowledge, Paul says that they have always had this knowledge. In acting upon this knowledge, all men have the urge to relate the forest of seemingly unrelated observations to the simpler and more general laws which point to that ultimate power.
In Paul's speech to the Athenians on Mars Hill he said that men who did not acknowledge God did, however, have knowledge of His power:
So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man . . . . (Acts 17:22-24)
Paul knew that God is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Ultimate Causer. He says in this passage that this
God, the God whom Paul knew, was also the God that the Athenians knew, even though they said he is unknown and they worshiped Him in ignorance. They knew Him because He displayed His power to them. They could not escape this knowledge of God. In the same way today, the nonChristian tacitly admits that there is a God whenever he carries out scientific work, work that would be impossible were there no ultimate, coherent power in Creation.
An unusually clear picture of the meaning of coherence in Creation is given in the following passage:
In [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. (Col. 1:16-18)
All things hang together because their very existence depends upon Him Who is both God and man. He created everything, including the things the natural
Physical scientific activity is Christian when the physical scientist knows that the physical aspect of Creation with which he works is a manifestation of the power of a creating and upholding God.
scientist analyzes, and He gives them continued existence.
The relation between man, his observations, and ultimate law which is being suggested here calls for certain further explanations.
1. Kuhn exhibited keen insight when he showed that the scientific community moves from paradigm to paradigm, with "normal" science carried out only when the scientific community accepts a paradigm, a picture of how things are or a fundamental set of laws describing the physical world.1 Kuhn claims, however, that as we move from paradigm to paradigm we are not necessarily moving toward a "true" picture of the universe. It is contended here, however, that we are moving toward a better and better understanding, that physical knowledge is unifiable, and that ultimately what we see is a reflection of the coherence in God himself.
Thus, the basic set of principles used to tie physics together in the nineteenth century was not the same as the set used in the twentieth century. We move to new levels. The twentieth century principles developed for physics have changed chemistry from a science in which the fundamental principles were dimly seen, if at all, to a science which is coherent. The new principles have both aided development within each of these two sciences and have brought these two sciences closer together.
2. The ideas suggested here do not improperly elevate the reasoning ability of man. Sometimes man can by deduction predict correctly observations which will be made, but often predictions are not borne out. The important fact for this discussion is that after observations are made they are usually shown to be related to earlier observations and natural laws already known. Also, our ability to predict is not useless: using Newton's laws, the scientific team that sent the first men to the moon predicted where the moon would be when the men arrived-and the moon was there.
3. When our observations lead us to conclude that there is a unifying power, we do not thereby prove the existence of God. What we do is confirm that which according to Paul-all men know already, namely, that there is a God with eternal power.
Consequences of the Unification Principle
1. If work in physical science is fundamentally possible because of a characteristic which all men possess, then it should be possible to demonstrate to men in general the logical relation between seemingly unrelated observations. Practically, such a demonstration can be made in teaching young people and adults of normal intelligence. Such a demonstration can be carried out if it is shown (a) that a certain experimental observation is precisely what one would expect, assuming the validity of certain elements of the student's prior knowledge, and that (b) a seemingly unrelated observation can he shown to be what one would expect given the same prior knowledge. The two observations will then have been shown to be related.
In the method proposed the demonstration must begin with what the non-scientist student already believes to be true. What the non-scientist believes may actually he incorrect by modern scientific standards (e.g., the non-scientist might hold that energy is conserved, although it is more nearly correct to say that mass-energy is conserved), but this difficulty usually means that the range of problems that the non-scientist can solve is more limited than that of the scientist. Thus, today's non-scientist can handle Newtonian, but not modem physical problems; the situation might be different in a later generation.
An example of how the non-scientist's prior knowledge can be used to predict what one would observe were the experiment performed, even though the observation is startling, follows. The student is asked to imagine that a rock is allowed to fall in a vacuum. Then he is to imagine that a second rock of the same shape and density is dropped at the same time from the same height; he will conclude that they will hit the ground at the same time. He will conclude that they will also hit the ground at the same time if initially there is a smaller horizontal gap between them. The gap can be made smaller and smaller and the student realizes that the result will always be the same. Finally, they can touch and the time of flight should not change; thus, a rock twice the size of the one rock falls at the same rate as does the one. The argument can be extended, by properly subdividing the falling object, to show that the time of flight is independent of shape and density. In all of this, very little prior knowledge is used.
The author has prepared a syllabus for college students with no prior scientific training in which only a very few additional ideas (e.g., energy is conserved, "charged" particles can exist, the earth rotates and has a certain geography) are used for input. The developments in the syllabus are in the following areas: mechanics (Newton's laws of motion, the Law of Gravity, and the motion of projectiles); sound (its nature and some of the principles of music); electricity (static electricity, current, magnetism, generators, and motors); light (its nature, color, refraction, and other properties); chemistry; gases and liquids (nature of heat, condensation and evaporation, vapor pressure and humidity, boiling, and dew point); heating and cooling solids, liquids, and gases; meteorology (seasons, the Coriolis force, world-wide circulation of air, and rainfall and temperature patterns). To summarize, hundreds of diverse observations can be shown to be related because the observations can be predicted by deductions from a very small set of initial assumptions. The world's rainfall pattern, the electric generator, the rocket ship, the reason for paint pigment colors, the prism, and the falling object are in the same network.
2. If it is ultimately possible in principle to harmonize observations, it is then possible to rule out the
possibility of certain observations which might otherwise seem possible. For example, if it is assumed (a) that the universe is three-dimensional, (b) that there is a point source of energy or a point at which lines of force begin, and (c) that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, then the observed intensity of the force or energy decreases according to the square of the distance from the source. Thus, gravitational, electric, and (under certain conditions) magnetic forces decrease according to the inverse square law, as does light and sound intensity. Therefore, given the assumptions, a new point source of energy or line of force could be predicted to obey the inverse square law also; in the new case, intensity would not decrease according to the 2.1 power or the 1.9 power. Conversely, if intensity did decrease according to some power other than two, it might be suspected that the source is not a point source. Up to now in the discussion of the inverse square law it has been assumed that the Newtonian picture of the universe is correct. If, however, a new source decreases in intensity by some power other than two, it is possible that the basic assumptions about the nature of the universe are incorrect; this conclusion is, of course, the conclusion that has actually been made. Thus, even when predictions fail, new insights into the nature of things are obtained precisely because it is assumed that observations must ultimately hang together.
3. It has been commonly assumed that one unproved law is the law which says that scientific explanations must involve as few assumptions as possible. This law about scientific laws is the Law of Parsimony. If it is indeed true that all men know that the universe is coherent because they know that there is a God Who has eternal power, then ideally explanations should involve as few assumptions as possible. Therefore, the Law of Parsimony is not unproved.
4. In fact, we assume, although we do not always realize it, that where there is no unification possible no natural scientific work can be carried out. For example, if the Uncertainty Principle is assumed valid, then a proposal to determine the time at which a given radioactive nucleus will emit (for example) an alpha particle is not a scientific proposal. The proposal would not he scientific because assuming the validity of the Uncertainty Principle implies that we cannot correlate observations and produce a natural law which will predict the behavior of a single atomic nucleus. Here is a case where unification is not possible, and therefore scientific investigation is not possible.
5. Some men have postulated the existence of several gods who are at least partially independent of each other. The polytheistic position is inconsistent with the assumptions normally made by scientists, namely, the assumption that there is ultimately only one power. There is no god of the sea who is different from the god of the high places.
6. Are there natural divisions between disciplines? For example, is the division between biology and the physical sciences artificial or natural? If attempts to unify an area of knowledge show that unification is possible without including observations in and laws for another area, then it seems that the two areas separately point to the single, coherent power of God and that the areas are naturally distinct. Thus, working out the implications of the Unification Principle could demonstrate that which is ordinarily taken to be true, viz., that the various aspects of Creation are independent in that one aspect cannot be derived from another. Reductionism would he shown to he illegitimate. In fact, as such a program is carried out it would probably be demonstrated that "law" refers to one kind of concept in one area (e.g., equations or their equivalent in the physical aspect) but an entirely different kind of concept in another area.
It is thus suggested that aspects of Creation besides the physical are also unifiable and that there are as many unification strands leading back to the Hands of God as there are naturally different aspects. The sum of all that can be traced to those unification strands is thus created reality.
7. According to the Uncertainty Principle, an observer cannot simultaneously and accurately know both the position and the velocity of a particle. If the value of one of these two variables is known exactly, then nothing is known about the value of the other variable. Is it possible for one to know that a particle is at rest with respect to some frame of reference? Presumably, something would he known about its position; at least, the position of an at-rest particle would not he completely unknown. Its velocity (zero) would be known accurately. But the Uncertainty Principle says that one cannot know the velocity accurately if something is known about the position. Therefore, since we can know something about the position of an at-rest particle, we cannot observe a particle to be at rest. For our purpose, we can consider that the physical aspect of creation consists of particles and radiation. Radiation is also not at rest. Therefore, "physical" always implies motion.
Since only finite velocities are possible, time elapses when there is motion. It follows that we can know nothing about the physical aspect of Creation which is not associated with time. Thus, it seems that with the creation of the physical that time was either created or was a necessary prerequisite. This conclusion has been arrived at by considering what we can observe. Our observations of the physical need time. It may not be provable, but it also seems that the time about which we ordinarily speak needs the physical aspect of Creation. Time is not a separate category.
Space as well as time is needed for motion. The argument concerning space is parallel to the one used for time. It seems that the concept of space is also meaningless if matter and radiation do not exist.
Thus, these three seem to be bound up together: the physical, time, and space. But notice how this "binding together" has come about. It is not merely that our minds observe the union "out there." The argument
hinges on what we can know. In the model of Creation that we construct, space, time, and the physical are united. In what we see there is coherence in what God created and upholds. But this emphasis on what God leads us to understand is precisely the emphasis given so far in our discussion of the Unification Principle. Man, created in the image of God, even though he is now sinful, is still able to see that there is unity in Creation as he realizes that his observations point to the coherent power of the Godhead.
Do time and space exist for man after he dies? We do not know. We do know that man is bodysoul, and that "body" and "soul" are not separable while man lives, i.e., while his life is associated with the physical. When Christ comes again, there will be bodily resurrection. What seems possible, although this idea is speculative, is that time and space do not exist for man after he dies but before he is resurrected. Perhaps man is man only when he is a body-soul. On the other hand, certain scriptural statements may indicate that man exists as a soul after death but before resurrection; if so, the speculation is not correct.
8. The idea of unification can he distorted. As presented here, unification is possible just because God created. Some men have started out with the idea that God did not create. They hold to the idea of no beginning. There never was creation of life or of anything else; life evolved from non-living matter and there never was a discontinuity. Man's universal desire can be claimed by some to rest on the principle that God created, a true principle; but it is claimed by others that this universal desire rests on exactly the opposite principle, a principle that is not a true principle, but the statement of a lie.
9. Perhaps we can see that the Unification Principle aids us in achieving a Christian approach to physical science. Physical scientific activity can be made to he a Christian activity not just because of technological applications which can be made. Thus, it is not enough to say that there is something Christian about work in the physical sciences because it is the physical scientist who can teach the technologist how to avoid polluting the environment, or because it is the physical scientist who can discover principles which will enable the technologist to invent labor-saving devices. Physical scientific activity is Christian when the physical scientist knows that the physical aspect of Creation with which he works is a manifestation of the power of a creating and upholding God. Every physical observation and every physical law are to be seen in a creational, providential context.
1T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962.